Who or what is the subject of The Fire Next Time?
Put simply, the subject of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is the problem of race in America. At the heart of the book lies a question: why is it that race actually is a "problem"? What is it, one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that has resulted in African Americans still being oppressed, assigned a different status than that of white people, by the Establishment?
In grappling with this question, Baldwin is analyzing his own thoughts and reactions, throughout his life, as much as he's examining the historical forces and the present-day attitudes (in 1963) which have perpetuated a dysfunctional situation. While critical of the attitudes of white people, he also states forcefully his disagreement with certain black leaders such as Elijah Mohammed who, in Baldwin's view, are putting forward unrealistic solutions and have created a racial mythology of their own as dangerous and self-defeating as that of the whites.
That the book is still relevant, fifty-five years later, is an indication that even with the very real progress that has taken place during these decades, much, much more needs to be done. Without offering any direct "solution" to a situation of enormous complexity Baldwin's implied answer is that all Americans need to accept (and to accept as a positive thing) the inevitability of a truly multicultural and multiracial society. Only then can the United States fulfill its promise to mankind made at the beginning of its history.
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